Interview with Evan Dando

From San Jose Mercury News
22nd November 2006

It's a bit like 1992 for Dando.

When Evan Dando decided to crank up the guitars for his latest project, he opted to give it a familiar name.

The CD was recorded with the rhythm section from the veteran L.A. punk band the Descendents, but it's called simply 'The Lemonheads' - the name of Dando's Boston-based band that nearly made it big in the early '90s.

'I just figured, why not use that brand name?... We put so much work into that,' Dando says from Paris, where he is enjoying a day off from the tour that hits San Francisco's Independent club tonight and Saturday.

The Lemonheads emerged from the indie-rock pack in the late '80s, propelled by Dando's appealing voice, prodigious melodic gifts and cover-boy good looks.

They began as a standard-issue high school punk band in 1986 but soon came to reflect Dando's more wide-ranging tastes. By 1992 he was the only permanent member. That year's 'It's a Shame About Ray' was one of the decade's most irresistible albums, a 29-minute blast of joyous pop-punk, bittersweet folk-rock and even incipient alt-country that made Dando the next big thing for a spell.

But a breakthrough hit never came, and by the mid-'90s, Dando was receiving more attention for partying with Oasis than for his music. When he broke up the band in 1997 and disappeared from sight, few cared. Many figured he would end up a hard-drug casualty like his hero, country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons.

Dando says there's a simple explanation for his disappearance from the scene.

'I just had too much money,' says Dando, now 39. 'That was definitely my worst problem. I'm lazy. I just like to go fly around the world and go to beaches and... [stuff] like that.'

For more than two years he didn't record a note or play a show, but Dando says he never turned his back on music entirely.

'I was always making up riffs, the whole time,' Dando says. 'I never quit writing songs. I just didn't finish anything for a really long time because I didn't need to or want to. I was sick of all that stuff, well, like this,' referring to this interview, pleasantly enough.

'I got run through the mill and chucked out the other end, and I was glad about it, basically.'

After getting married to British fashion model Elizabeth Moses in 2000, Dando returned with a solo acoustic live album in 2001 and the low-key studio release 'Baby I'm Bored' in 2003.

He got a chance to kick out the jams again in 2004 as one of the lead singers in the re-formed MC5 when the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan backed out. Dando called up MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and performed an impromptu audition of the band's songs over the phone.

'He was like, `We'll take him on enthusiasm alone,' ' Dando says.

Many found the Boston hunk an odd choice to front the down-and-dirty Detroit combo, and he received some brutal reviews during early shows on the U.S. tour. Dando admits that the start was a little rocky, but his memories are overwhelmingly positive now.

'That was the best thing I've done musically, I think,' he adds. 'Singing 'Looking at You' - that was one of the funnest things I've ever done. And 'Shaking Street' every night - 41 times I got to sing 'Shaking Street'!'

Most of the new album features Dando with two of the Descendents: drummer Bill Stevenson, who also produced the CD, and bassist Karl Alvarez. Dando's old skiing buddy J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. lends fuzzy guitar to two songs. The Band's Garth Hudson even makes a couple of cameo appearances on keyboards.

The result is a rocking, melodic album that sounds like the natural follow-up to 'It's a Shame About Ray,' 14 years later. Dando is understandably eager to work with Stevenson in the future.

'We really enjoy working with each other, so I think it would be silly not to do something else, even if it sounds quite different from this record,' Dando says. 'I'm sort of in the mood now to make a quieter record.'

In true Lemonheads fashion, yet another version of the band has been assembled for this tour. Dando currently is playing with bassist Vess Ruhtenberg and drummer Devon Ashley, formerly of the Indiana power-pop band the Pieces.

Dando says touring isn't quite the same as in the old days. 'We're just trying to make it as nice as possible,' says Dando, who is being joined on this tour by his wife. 'You've got to pamper yourself a little teeny bit at this age.'

Recent interviews in Spin and elsewhere make it clear that Dando isn't quite a teetotaler yet, but on this day, at least, the author of 'My Drug Buddy' is keeping his intake to himself. 'I'm not telling one way or the other,' he says. 'I can't believe people are interested. It's silly. Let them take their own drugs.'